McQuaid’s re-election bid continues to attract criticism

“Crazy structure of the UCI was created over the years to support the incumbent president in power”

Pat McQuaid, who is seeking a third term as president of the International Cycling Union

Pat McQuaid, who is seeking a third term as president of the International Cycling Union


Allegations of underhanded dealing, sinister plotting and cheating are nothing new in cycling. For a change, though, the sport is mired in a controversy that has nothing do with doping or racing, at least directly.

Instead the issue comes from a series of involved steps by Pat McQuaid, the international cycling federation’s president, to retain his post through retroactive rule changes.

Already a polarising figure after two terms as president and 15 years in senior positions at the International Cycling Union, which is most widely known by its French acronym, UCI, McQuaid has baffled and angered prominent members of the cycling community with his latest manoeuvres.

Perhaps more surprising is the prospect that the Irishman, who as president since 2005 has led the sport during a period of crisis that undermined the sport’s credibility, could still be re-elected despite widespread opposition.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen such of period of discontent,” said Bob Stapleton, a director of USA Cycling and the owner of the now defunct Highroad professional cycling team. “But the crazy structure of the UCI was created over the years to support the incumbent president in power.”

That power is being tested as never before. On September 27th, during cycling’s world championships in Italy, 42 delegates will gather in Florence to elect the federation’s next president to a four-year term. McQuaid’s greatest struggle, and perhaps a telling indictment of his tenure, has been his difficulty in simply getting onto the ballot.

Under the cycling union’s constitution, McQuaid is required to be nominated by “the federation of the candidate.” Traditionally, that has been interpreted to mean the country of the candidate’s citizenship, which is Ireland in McQuaid’s case.

But in June, Cycling Ireland, the governing body of cycling in Ireland, turned down McQuaid. Now a resident of Switzerland, where the UCI has its headquarters, McQuaid joined that country’s federation and initially secured its nomination. But that nomination, too, was revoked last month, after a challenge by some of the Swiss federation’s members.

Undeterred, McQuaid announced that he was being nominated by two nations with which he had no clear personal connection: Thailand and Morocco. Two other groups, the Malaysian National Cycling Federation and the Asian Cycling Confederation, have asked delegates to the presidential vote to change the UCI constitution retroactively to allow presidential candidates to be nominated by any two nations.

McQuaid, in an email message, declined to comment. But among those surprised and angered by McQuaid’s actions is Brian Cookson, the president of British Cycling and the only other candidate for the UCI job.

“This is a bizarre situation,” Cookson said. “It looks terrible, and I think it’s symptomatic of how the UCI has been led.”

Five federations, including USA Cycling, asked the UCI last month to have the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is usually the last stop in doping cases, to evaluate their concerns about nomination rules and residency requirements.

Steve Johnson, the president and chief executive of USA Cycling, said McQuaid’s shifting interpretation of the nominating rules reflected the UCI’s operation in general. “It runs to the whims of one person,” said Johnson, who will be among the delegates who select the new president.

“What we’ve seen leading up to the election are a sequence of extraordinary actions designed to support Pat McQuaid.” On Friday, the UCI turned down the federations’ request. More than two decades of doping by riders have battered cycling, and there has been widespread sentiment inside the sport that McQuaid’s record during its time of crisis has made it impossible for him to restore the UCI’s credibility. Some have credited him for establishing a program that tracks riders’ biological passports as a way to ferret out doping, but he has been involved in several controversies.

Questions about why McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen, the former president of the UCI, accepted a $100,000 donation from Lance Armstrong to the federation in 2002 have never been fully answered. More recently, Travis T Tygart, the chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency, said that the UCI obstructed an investigation by his organisation that ultimately led to Armstrong’s loss of his seven Tour de France titles because of his use of banned substances.

Allied with the credibility problem is a growing financial crisis in cycling. Major teams have folded and long-standing races have disappeared because of declining sponsorships.

“I personally like Pat,” Stapleton said. “But if you look at the facts, it’s clear that the sport has gone backwards. There’s been an inability to address the key issues in the sport and basic resistance to change.”

Support from small countries could mean more to McQuaid than simply getting a nomination. Johnson and Stapleton said that support from nations with little cycling prominence had been an important power base for incumbents and could help in the election.

“The factor you can never underestimate are the fantastic survival instincts of the UCI and those who are in power,” Stapleton said. New York Times